Group gets money back for 'patriotic' flag roadshow

The Highways Department will refund the HK$147,670 it charged a community group as an "inspection fee" over the 1,214 national flags it hung on lampposts in the New Territories to celebrate National Day last year.

News of impending refund came before Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said late yesterday he had instructed administrative and inspection fee exemptions for national and SAR hung on on lampposts.

In a Facebook post, he said he would launch a campaign to teach people the correct way to hang national and SAR flags. He also said he had requested authorities to draft new rules to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.

The department had charged HK$6 each flag per day for the 1,214 flags put up for 20 days along Fam Kam and Kam Tin roads from September 20 to October 9, with the HK$145,680 total charge topped off by a HK$1,990 application fee.

The news came to light when pro-Beijing columnist Chris Wat Wing-yin wrote about it on Tuesday, excoriating this "ridiculous" move to charge people for "patriotic behavior."

The following day, Legislative Council member Michael Lee Chun-keung of the Liberal Party posted on Facebook a letter he and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong counterpart Rock Chen Chung-nin had sent to Director of Highways Jimmy Chan Pai-ming.

"In fact, hanging national flags on the streets is a proper way to show love of the nation and Hong Kong," they wrote.

"These duties were supposed to be carried out by the SAR government. Now that citizens are helping, they should not be charged."

"During black-clad violence in 2019, political parties and groups had hung flags and put up posters on the streets, how did the department handle them?" they asked.

A department spokesman told The Standard the applicant was the first community group to apply in August to hang up the flags and a refund is in the works upon receiving the letter.